Tamil director Vetrimaaran’s Visaaranai (Interrogation) will represent India in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars. The selection committee of the Film Federation of India, the trade body that represents the country’s various film industries, announced its decision on September 22. A tense and compelling drama about custodial torture and corruption in the police force, Visaaranai is Vetrimaaran’s third film.
Ketan Mehta headed the FFI committee this year. The names of the selection committee members are usually kept secret. The decision was unanimous, said FFI Secretary General Supran Sen.
Visaaranai was chosen from among 29 entries, including Dhanak, Udta Punjab, Thithi, Sairat, Umrika, Neerja, and Nil Battey Sannata. The Tamil movie is the third National Film Award winner in the past three years to be picked as the official Indian entry after Liar’s Dice and Court.
Produced by Dhanush’s Wunderbar Studios, Visaaranai was premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2015 before its theatrical release. “This is just the beginning,” Vetrimaaran told Scroll.in. “There is a lot of work to be done...as much as making a film.”
The 89th Academy Awards will be held in Los Angeles on February 27, 2017. The honorary Oscars have already been announced: they will be given to actor and filmmaker Jackie Chan, editor Anne V Coates, documentary filmmaker Fredrick Wiseman, and casting director Lynn Stallmaster.
India has never won in this category. Only three films have been nominated in the list of fine five films that compete for the coveted honour: Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan (2001).
The selection process of the one film that will represent all of India at the Oscars has rarely been free of controversy. The federation has been accused of giving preference to submissions from the powerful Hindi film industry over regional cinema productions in the past. The decision to send populist popcorn entertainers such as Tamil director Shankar’s Jeans in 1998 and Anurag Basu’s plagiarism-heavy Barfi! in 2012 have been ridiculed. When Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya was selected as the Indian entry in 2007, filmmaker Bhavna Talwar, whose submission Dharm had been overlooked, raised a storm of protest. Talwar’s objections were echoed by the FFI selection chairperson that year, Vinod Pande.
Outrage followed when The Lunchbox was ignored in favour of The Good Road in 2013. In 2015, the decision to sent Chaitanya Tamhane’s universally acclaimed Court seemed to have been a smart choice, until one of the selectors, director Rahul Rawail, announced that he had resigned from the selection committee because of chairperson Amol Palekar’s “obnoxious behaviour”.